A Juneau Catholic lay committee's investigation of sexual abuse allegations against a local priest has turned up credible but less serious accusations of "inappropriate behavior" from other former parishioners, the diocese said in a statement released Sunday.
The new claims made against the Rev. Michael Nash will be forwarded to a Vatican committee, which will decide his future in the church, local Catholic officials said.
Nash was accused in November of sexually abusing former Juneau resident and parishioner Joel Post in the early 1980s. Post said Nash raped him several times over the course of four years.
Nash, former pastor at Cathedral of the Nativity, has maintained his innocence. He voluntarily agreed to step down from his duties as priest while Juneau church officials, a lay committee and police investigate Post's claims.
Police have not filed any charges against Nash. Church officials investigated the matter and sent their findings to the lay committee in December. The lay committee is composed of parishioners responsible for reviewing allegations of sexual abuse by priests and making recommendations to the diocese on a course of action.
The lay committee hasn't decided whether Post's allegations are credible, according to Sunday's statement, which Bishop Michael Warfel read to the Cathedral congregation. It did conclude, however, other allegations of "inappropriate behavior" levied against Nash were credible.
The statement did not explain the alleged behavior, or say how many people have come forward.
"Fr. Nash unequivocally denies that he ever in his life sexually abused a child or an adult," said a statement issued Sunday by Nash's civil attorney, Louis Menendez. "Fr. Nash has cooperated with the diocese and Bishop Warfel at every stage in these matters - sometimes against the advice of his attorneys.
"It is important to understand that there is a great deal of information that has not been released to the public."
The local lay committee decided to send its findings to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in Rome, which will determine whether the new allegations meet the church's criteria for sexual abuse of a minor. If the doctrinal congregation decides Nash is guilty according to church law, he will be defrocked, Warfel said in a November interview with the Empire.
Warfel said the church was offering Nash "spiritual and material support," and is allowing him to obtain secular employment. According to canon law, he is not allowed to act as a practicing priest while he is the subject of a Vatican investigation.
Sunday's statement said the church would not comment further. Warfel declined any comment to the Empire and said the lay committee's spokesman, Rev. Pat Travers, was out of town. An e-mail sent to Travers was not answered by the Empire's Sunday evening deadline.
Warfel told the congregation he would be available this evening to answer questions, but said he won't discuss details of Nash's case.
The statement offered the church's apology, "to any person when they were minors who may have experienced harm as a result of the actions of one of its priests."
Warfel also spoke to his congregation of personal regrets he's felt since November.
"Many times over the last few months I have wished I could wake up and this will all have been just a nightmare," Warfel said. "I know I can't, and it never will be that. ... Many times since November I have reached a point where I just wanted to wash my hands of this whole thing, but I can't, and I must press forward."
Post said the church's conclusion is vindication.
"I just want to thank the people who came forward to back me up," Post said. "Now people will see I was telling the truth."
On April 16, Post is scheduled to testify before the lay committee, which is investigating his allegations.
Melanie Plenda can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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